Whether you've had April showers or are experiencing May ones, rain is a great metaphor for Dampness in the body. Just as rain collects and congests traffic (Qi or Blood stagnation) it can also flood and eventually swamp an area (Damp Stagnation). Damp Stagnation can be likened to standing swamp that breeds bacteria.
In TCM, when Dampness collects over time, Heat develops and dries Fluids. The Dampness then congeals to form Phlegm. Phlegm is a more serious condition that can cause such conditions as cough, wheezing, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, GERD, scrofula, goiter, arthritis and lymphadenitis, or it can lead to major diseases like cancer, stroke, atherosclerosis, plaque in the arteries, coma, lockjaw, contracted limbs, cerebral vascular accident, and seizures. While Phlegm is a secondary pathogen, it is considered “the mother of 100 diseases” by the Yuan dynasty physician, Wang Gui. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is called kapha, or the mucus humour.
In general, Fluid (Damp) Stagnation is often associated with Qi Deficiency or low energy. It is accompanied by a general appearance of edema or tissue swelling, especially seen on the abdomen, face, enlarged glands, nodules and/or any other puffy, swollen areas of the body. The tongue reflects generalized edema by appearing enlarged, swollen, scalloped on the sides, and very moist. The pulse feels “slippery,” gliding or “rolling,” whichever description aptly describes its manifestation.
Phlegm has the following characteristics:
Yin in nature, and as such, can injure Yang Qi
Heavy in nature: feels like a weight or oppression/heaviness in limbs, head, chest, or whole body
Gives rise to lumps and masses: these are soft, movable nodules and not usually painful; swollen joints, goiter, scrofula, cysts
Sticky and obstructive: it can appear as such in the stools, throat, nausea, vomit, or in the channels (numbness); if there’s phlegm in the throat, this is enough to determine the existence of phlegm (especially if this occurs in the morning or after meals and if the tongue is swollen)
Moves and changes: phlegm often moves with Liver Yang or Liver Wind, causing such issues as strokes, or hypertension
Interacts with Blood Stasis (mainly in the elderly); when the two interact, it causes major diseases and death. As well, Phlegm aggravates and harbors Blood stasis (both together create dark nails, a dark complexion, purple lips, and a purple and swollen tongue)
Damages the Spleen and especially, the Stomach
Easily mixes with other pathogenic factors
Is the origin of other diseases: when symptoms don’t fit, think of Phlegm as Phlegm conditions are complicated and a strange group of symptoms
Pulse: Slippery and/or wiry
Tongue body: Swollen – where the tongue is swollen indicates the location of Phlegm
Tongue coat: Sticky
Combinations of body and coat:
swollen body, sticky coat: phlegm
swollen body, sticky coat without root and partially peeled: Phlegm and Stomach Yin Deficiency
swollen body, sticky coat, deep cracks: Phlegm and Yin deficiency
swollen body, sticky coat, deep crack in heart area: Phlegm misting the Shen
swollen body, no coat, slightly purple: phlegm and Blood stasis
swollen body, no coat: Phlegm and Yin Deficiency
swollen body, dry, yellow inside stomach crack: Phlegm Fire in Stomach
swollen body and red: Phlegm Heat
Frankly, if you’ve got to spit out mucus from your throat first thing in the morning or after eating meals, you’ve got phlegm.
Dampness vs. Phlegm
Can be external
Is only internal
Slimy and/or sticky
Moves and changes
Diseases not so serious
Causes serious diseases
From Spleen impairment
From Spleen, Kidney and Lung impairment
Usually affects lower body
Usually affects middle and upper body
Doesn’t affect the mind
Affects the mind
Combines with Heat or Cold
Combines with Heat, Cold, Fire, Blood, Wind, Dryness
Mostly affects the Spleen, Gall Bladder, Urinary Bladder, Large Intestine, Small Intestine
Mostly affects the Lungs Heart, Kidneys, Stomach
Affects the Spleen
Affects the Stomach
Moves with (or blocks) Qi and Blood
Sticky, heavy, dirty, flows downward
Only assumes one form: watery
Can be Phlegm, Phlegm Fluids
Use “drain Dampness” herbs
Use “resolve Phlegm” herbs
Phlegm always affects the Spleen but it accumulates in the Lungs. However, because it moves and changes, it can be found anywhere in the body, such as:
Phlegm in the Lungs: cough, wheezing, stifling sensation in the chest, pain in the ribs
Damp Phlegm Obstructing the Lungs: chronic cough coming in bouts, profuse white sputum which is easy to expectorate, white-pasty complexion, stuffiness of the chest, feeling “clogged up,” shortness of breath, dislike of lying down, slippery or weak-floating and fine pulse and thick-sticky white tongue coating.
Phlegm Heat in the Lungs: barking cough, profuse yellow or green or dark sputum which is foul-smelling, shortness of breath, asthma, stuffiness of the chest, slippery, rapid, full pulse and red tongue body with a thick-sticky yellow coating
Phlegm in the Stomach: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, epigastric distention
Phlegm in the Channels: scrofula, goiter, lymphadenitis
Upper Warmer Symptoms: edema in top part of body such as face and hands, congestion in the head and/or chest
Middle Warmer Symptoms: sound of abdominal fluid, damp abdomen, ascites, edema in the middle part of the body
Lower Warmer Symptoms: Edema in lower part of body, such as the legs and ankles, pitting
Is Damp Stagnation Hot or Cold?
Dampness and Phlegm always appear with either Heat or Cold. If with Heat, there’ll be other signs of Heat along with a yellow tongue coat and yellowish excretions and secretions; if with Cold, there’ll be other signs of Cold along with a white tongue coat and clear to white excretions and secretions.
Causes for Damp Stagnation
Dampness and Phlegm are always pathologies of the Qi mechanism. While it is primarily caused by deficient Spleen Qi or Yang failing to transform and transport Body Fluids, it may also be created by deficient Kidneys unable to control the Fluids and/or Liver Qi Stagnation failing to facilitate the transportation and transformation functions of the Spleen. As well, it may be caused by the invasion of pathogenic influences such as External Wind-Cold that interferes with the Lung’s function of dispersing and descending. Here are several other factors that can cause Damp stagnation and Phlegm to develop:
Pathogenic Influences:Phlegm easily combines with other pathogens to create many conditions such as:
Phlegm with Qi Stagnation
stone Phlegm (chronic swelling of the glands or nodules on the vocal chords)
Phlegm obstructing the Heart
Lung Deficiency with Phlegm
Phlegm-Fire in the Lungs
turbid Phlegm in the Lungs
Phlegm obstructing the Lung Qi
Phlegm-Fluids in the Lungs
Spleen Qi Deficiency with Phlegm
Phlegm obstructing the middle burner
Phlegm-Fire in the center
Phlegm-Fluids in the center
Liver-Wind harboring Phlegm
Phlegm-Heat in the Liver channel
Liver Qi Stagnation and Phlegm
Liver Blood Deficiency and Phlegm
Kidney Yang Deficiency with Phlegm
Kidney Yin Deficiency with Phlegm
Emotions:Any emotional excess can eventually lead to Damp Stagnation and Phlegm
Diet: High consumption of cold foods and/or drinks; raw foods; dampening foods like fried and fatty foods, dairy, sugar, tofu, soy milk, alcohol, and flour products
Lifestyle Habits: Irregular eating habits, overwork, inactivity, excessive or long-term use of many pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics and antidepressants
In Part II we will discuss treatments and therapies for Damp Stagnation. However, if you feel stagnant just by reading all of this, guess what I’m going to suggest that you do? That’s right! Immediately get up and MOVE! Movement is one of the great keys to circulating everything in the body. It can be exercise, but if you do what you love at the same time, it also smoothes emotions and nourishes you, preventing further stagnation.
In Part I we learned about the many signs and symptoms of Cold Stagnation and its effects on physical and mental health. In this segment we’ll cover how to treat and prevent Cold Stagnation. You may be most interested in herbs and formulas that treat this condition, but first I’ll cover other therapies integral to preventing and treating this issue.
Therapies for Cold Stagnation
Foods to Eat: All cooked foods, warm drinks; spices added to food; animal protein (except crabmeat and shellfish); cooked and spiced vegetables and fruits
Foods to Avoid: Refrigerated foods and drinks; raw foods (including salads); iced drinks; frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicles, etc.; most fruit and vegetable juices; melons, bananas; crabmeat and shellfish (except shrimp); soy milk and tofu
Emotional Therapy:Appropriate expression and release of emotions
Lifestyle Therapies:Dress warmly and adequately for the weather; cover neck with a high collar or scarf; cover lower back, waist and midriff
Other Therapies:As with Blood Stagnation, moxibustion is the main therapy for Cold Stagnation, although other heat applications may be used such as hot stones, hot packs, warming herbal patches, ginger fomentations, and so forth.
Herbal Therapy:Herbs for Cold Stagnation tend to come from the “Herbs That Warm the Interior” or “Herbs that Tonify Yang” categories. In Western herbalism this can include stimulants along with certain adaptogens. These herbs have a warm to hot energy and generally pungent and/or sweet flavor. If there is also Wind or Dampness involved, then herbs that resolve Wind-Cold or disperse Cold Damp are also used. Take these herbs with cooked, warm food or as warm teas. Examples of herbs used for Cold Stagnation follow:
pippali long pepper
ginger, especially dried
Kitchen medicine: Many kitchen spices are warming in energy, which disperse Cold Stagnation, such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and garlic.
Formulas for Cold Stagnation
Stagnation of Cold in the Upper Warmer
Aconite Combination (Si Ni Tang)
*Prepared aconite (fuzi, Aconitum carmichaeli) 9-12 g
Dry ginger (gan jiang, Zingiberis officinalis) 6-9 g
Baked Licorice (zhi gan cao, Glycyrrhiza uralensis) 9-12 g
*Substitute for aconite: cinnamon bark, rou gui
Properties and Actions:
a) For Yang exhaustion of the Lesser Yin (Xiao Yin) stage.
b) For Yang Deficiency caused by excessive perspiration.
Indications:This formula can be used for collapse of vital functions and cardiac failure. Symptoms include: cold extremities, fear of cold, fatigue and exhaustion, diarrhea with undigested food in the stool, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and lack of thirst. This formula was originally indicated for individuals who were inappropriately prescribed diaphoretics.
Pulse:Deep and weak
Tongue: Pale or dark purplish-blue
Contraindications:Avoid if there is Excess Heat or Yin Deficiency.
Stagnation of Cold in the Middle Warmer
Ginseng and Ginger Combination or Regulate the Middle Pill (Li Zhong Wan)
Dry ginger (gan jiang, Zingiber officinalis) 9 g
Ginseng (ren shen, Panax ginseng) 9 g
White atractylodes (bai zhu, Atractylodes alba) 9 g
Baked licorice (zhi gan cao, Glycyrrhiza uralensis) 9 g
Preparation: Grind the ingredients into a powder. Warm honey until it is liquid. Stir the herb powder into the honey until it is a thick doughy consistency. Roll into balls about half the size of a lime. Take two or three daily before meals. A single dose of pills should equal to about 6-9 grams of the powdered herb. It can also be taken as a decoction. The pill is often taken with rice congee. Unless it is an acute case, codonopsis (dang shen) can be doubled in amount and substituted for ginseng (ren shen).
Properties and Actions:
a) Tonic, warms and tonifies Spleen and Stomach Yang
b) Strengthens digestion and raises digestive metabolism
Indications:It may be considered for symptoms of deficiency such as diarrhea with watery stool, nausea and vomiting, no particular thirst, loss of appetite, abdominal pain.
Pulse:Deep and thin
Tongue:Pale tongue with white coat
Note:This formula is often combined with either or both 6 g of cinnamon bark (rou gui) and 6 g of prepared aconite (fu zi) to make it stronger and warmer; this is Aconite, Ginger and Ginseng Combination (Fu Zi Li Zhong Wan). It is particularly useful for vegetarians, who through eating too much cold, raw food, have injured the Spleen Yang and seriously weakened their digestive metabolism.
Contraindications:Avoid if there is Excess Heat or Yin Deficiency.
Stagnation of Cold in the Lower Warmer
Rehmannia Eight Combination (Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan)
Prepared aconite (fu zi, Aconitum praeparata) 10-15 g
Cinnamon twigs (gui zhi, Cinnamomum cassia) 6-9 g
Prepared Rehmannia (shu di huang, Rehmannia glutinosa) 20-30 g
Cornus (shan zhu yu, Cornus officinalis) 10-15 g
Dioscorea (shan yao, Dioscorea opposita) 10-15 g
Water Plantain (ze xie, Alisma plantago-aquatica) 9-12 g
Moutan Peony (mu dan pi, Paeonia suffruticosa) 6-9 g
Poria (fu ling, Poria cocos) 9-12 g
Properties and Actions:
a) Tonifies Yang
b) Warms the Kidneys and lower extremities
Indications:For symptoms of Kidney Yang Deficiency with lower backache, coldness in the lower extremities, impotence, spermatorrhea, prostatic hypertrophy, frequent urination, nocturia, cough, asthma, persistent diarrhea, dysuria, spasms of the lower abdomen. It can be considered for diabetes mellitus and insipidus, hyperaldosteronism, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, edema, cystitis, chronic nephritis, kidney stones, albuminaria, chronic bronchitis, edema, chronic diarrhea, rectal prolapse, chronic gonorrhea, arthritis, menopausal problems, eczema, senile pruritis, vaginal itching, urticaria, neurasthenia, cataracts, glaucoma, keratitis.
Pulse: Sunken, slow and weak
Contraindications: Avoid if there is Excess Heat, Yin Deficiency or gastrointestinal weakness.
Stagnation of Cold in Liver Channel
Warm the Liver Decoction (Nuan Gan Jian)
Angelica sinensis (dang gui) 6-9 g
Lycii berries (gou ji zi, Fructus lycii) 9 g
Fennel seeds (xiao hui xiang, Foeniculi vulgaris) 6 g
Cinnamon bark (rou gui, Cinnamomi cassiae) 3-6 g
Lindera root (wu yao, Linderae strychnifoliae) 6 g
Aquilaria wood (chen xiang, Lignum aguilariae) 6 g
Preparation: Take warm. Saussurea (mu xiang) is often substituted for the harder to obtain aquilaria, which is also known as Lignum vitae. This formula is particularly indicated for hernial disorders for which fennel seed is a near specific.
Contraindications:Avoid if there is Excess Heat, Yin Deficiency or gastrointestinal weakness.
Cold Invading the Large/Small Intestine
Magnolia and Hoelen Combination (Wei Ling Tang)
Alisma (ze xie, Alisma plantago-aquatica) 2.5 g
Poria (fu ling, Poria cocos) 2.5 g
Polyporus (zhu ling, Polyporus umbellatus) 2.5 g
Cinnamon twig (gui zhi, Cinnamomum cassia) 2 g
White Atractylodes (bai zhu, Atractylodes alba) 2.5 g
Black Atractylodes (cang zhu, Atractylodes lancea) 2.5 g
Magnolia bark (hou po, Magnolia officinalis) 2.5 g
Citrus peel (chen pi, Citrus reticulata) 2.5 g
Licorice (gan cao, Glycyrrhizae uralensis) 1 g
Fresh ginger (sheng jiang, Zingiberis officinale) 1.5 g
Jujube dates (da zao, Zizyphus jujuba) 3-5 pcs
Properties and Actions:
a) Eliminates Dampness of the Spleen (relieves bloating)
b) Carminative, restores the function of the Stomach and assists digestion.
Indications:Abdominal bloating and fullness, loss of appetite, dull heavy feeling in the head and body, watery diarrhea, decreased urination.
Pulse: Slippery and thready
Tongue:White with a greasy coat
Contraindications:Avoid if there is Excess Heat, or Yin Deficiency.
Cold Obstruction of the Channels
Frigid Extremities Decoction (Si Ni Tang)
*Prepared Aconite (fu zi, Aconitum carmichaeli) 6-9 g
Dry ginger (gan jiang, Zingiber officinale) 4.5 g
Honey baked licorice (zhi gan cao, Glycyrrhiza uralensis) 6 g
*Substitute cinnamon twig for the aconite
Properties and Actions:
a) Metabolic Stimulant, stimulates Yang
b) Warms and counteracts internal Cold
Indications:Aversion to cold, coldness in the hands and feet, coldness in the Stomach and Spleen, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, lack of thirst.
Pulse: Thin, deep and faint
Tongue: White, moist coat
Variation: By adding 6-9 g of ginseng (ren shen), the formula has wider tonic properties, tonifying Yin, Blood and Qi. Both these formulas are appropriate for both the Xiao Yin and Jue Stages as well.
Note: This is the basic metabolic stimulant formula.
Contraindications: Avoid if there is Excess Heat or Deficient Yin.
Ayurvedic Compounds for Cold Stagnation
Trikatuis used for Internal Cold Stagnation and to dry mucus. It consists of equal parts powdered black pepper, pippali long pepper and ginger mixed with honey. A teaspoon is taken 2 or 3 times daily to lessen mucus and treat upper respiratory allergies.
Sito Paladi Churna is a traditional household formula used to treat the symptoms of the common cold. It consists of equal parts sugar, bamboo manna, pippali long pepper, cardamom seeds, cinnamon bark and ginger. It is warming, anti-mucus and clears Dampness.
Western Thompsonian Herbal Formula for Cold Stagnation
4 parts bayberry bark powder
2 parts white pine bark powder
2 parts powdered ginger root (dried)
1/2 part cayenne pepper
1/2 part cloves powder
A teaspoon of this can be taken in hot or warm water three or four times daily. While this helps induce perspiration in someone with the first sign of a cold or flu (followed a half hour later with a bowl of thin porridge such as rice cream or oatmeal if the patient is weak), this formula may also be taken in smaller doses to move Cold Stagnation. As well, it may be modified with cinnamon bark and licorice.
Years ago when I worked in Cleveland, I’d stare out the office window at a sunny spring day. Ecstatic to finally have warm weather, I’d rush out at lunchtime without a coat – it looked warm after all – only to find it was still cold. It’s behaviors like this that are one of the reasons why the winter-into-spring turning point of the seasons is one of the two most vulnerable times of year for colds and flu.
For this reason, I’m choosing to discuss Cold Stagnation in this blog. In April, there is often still a chill in the air. While we want it to be warm outside and so dress more lightly, generally it’s still frigid, particularly with wind, and so this is one of the times of year when cold can penetrate or congest more easily.
Cold itselftends to contract like ice. It causes a person to hunch over or curl up in order to minimize exposed body surface and maintain inner warmth. With lack of heat, activity in all forms slows.
Coldness is characterized by:
feelings of coldness, severe chills, aversion to cold and craving of warmth
pale complexion, anemia, poor circulation, low blood pressure
weakness, lethargy, slowness, somnolence
poor digestion, poor appetite
diarrhea or loose stools, frequent and copious clear urination, night time urination
fluid retention, no thirst or sweating
timidity, soft voice, quietness
few body odors
clear to white mucus, stools, urine or vaginal secretions
achy pain in the joints
frigidity, impotence, infertility
all hypo-conditions such as hypothyroidism, hypo-adrenalism or hypoglycemia
Signs of Cold Stagnation
Coldness impedes circulation, causes contraction and slows activity internally. If there’s Cold in the body, eventually it leads to other forms of stagnation or it depletes the inner fires. Cold Stagnation can be acute or chronic. If acute, it usually causes severe pain; if it’s chronic, you may not even be aware of its presence except for perhaps feelings of coldness in the affected area.
Cold Stagnation is sometimes called “Full Cold.” Full Cold only exists a short time because it quickly consumes the Yang, turning into Yang Deficiency (Empty Cold) instead. Pain from Cold Stagnation is generally severe, but not fixed or stabbing, and it’s alleviated by warmth and pressure. Cold Stagnation often combines with Damp to form Cold-Damp Stagnation as well.
Pulse and Tongue:
Pulse: The pulse is slow (less than 60 BPM); deep and tight. Fewer than four beats per complete breath (60 beats/minute) indicates Cold:
slow and empty designates Yang Deficiency
slow and full indicates Cold Stagnation.
Tongue: pale with a thick white coat (acute); pale with a thin white coat (chronic)
Cold Stagnation in the Upper Warmer:
Feelings of coldness in the head, arms, chest and back; pale complexion.
Pain in the joints and/or muscles with feelings of coldness
Stagnation of Cold in the Liver Channel:
In men: straining of the testes or contraction of the scrotum; fullness and distension of the bladder area with pain that refers to the scrotum and testes
In women: shrinking of the vagina; pain alleviated by warmth
Cold Obstructing the Large and/or Small Intestines:
Abdominal pain alleviated by heat and pressure; loose stools or diarrhea; if the Cold invades the Large or Small intestines, the pain is sudden and severe; diarrhea with pain; feeling of cold and cold sensation in abdomen
This is an acute condition from the invasion of Exterior Cold into the Large Intestine that occurs usually from sitting on cold and wet surfaces for prolonged periods, exposure to very cold weather, or from having the abdomen insufficiently covered.
This happened to our son one day when he was about 8 years old. He had been playing outdoors von a cool day when suddenly, he ran inside and rolled on the floor, holding his abdomen and crying with pain. When I felt the area, it as cool to the touch and so I applied heart. Very quickly the pain dispersed.
Cold Invading/Obstructing the Stomach:
Sudden pain in the epigastrium, feelings of coldness with preference for warmth, vomiting of clear fluid, worse after drinking cold fluids that are then vomited
Cold Invading/Obstructing the Uterus:
Infertility; miscarriage; leucorrhea; pain and cold feeling before or during period in the lower abdomen referring to the waist and back with the pain alleviated by warmth; scanty dark red menstrual blood with clots
Causes for Cold Stagnation
Factors that can lead to Cold Stagnation are:
Pathogenic Influences:Wind-Chill invading the skin, channels, Stomach, Intestines, or Uterus.
Emotions:Inward behavior, passivity and dullness can all be signs of Cold Stagnation.
Diet:Excessive intake of cold drinks and foods, including the following:
Refrigerated foods and drinks
Raw foods, including salads
Frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicles, etc.
Most fruit juices
Crabmeat and shellfish
Soy milk and tofu
Lifestyle Habits: Not wearing sufficient clothing for the weather, bear midriffs, standing or sitting in cold environments (like concrete floors and basements).
In Part II, we will discuss treatments and therapies for Cold Stagnation. However, if you feel cold just by reading all of this, I suggest you immediately get up and – you got it: MOVE! While you certainly may be tired of reading this repeated suggestion by now, movement is still one of the great keys not just to circulating Qi and Blood, but also to warming the body and dispersing Cold Stagnation.
In Part 1 we learned about the many signs and symptoms of Blood Stasis and its effects on health. Now, we’ll cover how to treat and prevent Blood Stasis. Of course you’ll be immediately interested in the herbs and formulas to use, but first I’ll cover other therapies that are integral, even essential, to preventing and treating this issue.
Note that because Blood Stasis is frequently an underlying factor in many health problems, it’s important to not only focus on moving Blood but also on resolving the causative factors. Further, because there’s an interdependent relationship between Blood and Qi, it’s important to promote the movement of Qi when moving Blood and vice versa.
Therapies for Blood Stasis
Eat: A balanced diet of protein, complex carbs and fats of cooked foods and warm drinks.
Avoid: Raw and cold foods and iced foods and drinks (review the list in Part 1). As an example of the power of diet in moving Blood Stasis, a patient I treated didn’t tell me about her menstrual pain, but when she changed her diet and stopped cold and raw foods, her menstrual pain went away!
Express and release your emotions appropriately; work with your limiting patterns.
Enjoy movement and exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming; yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Those with Blood Deficiency should avoid hot tubs and saunas, particularly during or right after menses, as these further deplete the Blood. If there’s Internal Cold, hot tubs and saunas are fine IF immediately followed by a cold plunge or shower to lock the heat in (otherwise it dissipates your body heat, which depletes Yang over time).
Moxibustion is one of the best techniques to move localized Blood Stasis and to warm the Interior. Other warm applications such as hot stones, heat lamps, hot water bottles, heating herbal patches and warming liniments, massage, dermal hammer, or cupping also apply. Buffing, the application of a gentle power tool covered with a cotton cover and gently moved across the skin is fabulous to increase localized skin circulation.
In TCM, Blood-moving herbs are divided into four groups according to their ascending order of strength:
Harmonize the Blood white peony root
Promote the movement of Blood vaccaria seed
Dispel Blood Stasis red peony root
Break up Blood Stasis turmeric root, peach seed
In general, an herb may be termed “Blood invigorating,” a generic term for moving Blood. In Western herbalism, herbs that move Blood are considered emmenagogues. Most Blood-moving herbs have a warm energy with an acrid and bitter flavor. All enter the Liver organ and meridian along with other possible organs and channels.
Blood-moving herbs should be avoided during pregnancy and menses; in those who have a tendency toward excessive menstrual bleeding; in people who bleed easily; and anyone on blood-thinner medications (Warfarin, Coumadin, etc.).
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
Lovage (Ligusticum levisticum)
Corydalis (Corydalis formosa)
Tien qi (Panax notoginseng)
Turmeric (Curcumae longa)
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus, L. lucidi, ze lan)
Peach seed (Prunus persica, tao ren)
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, hong hua)
Saffron (Crocus sativus, fan hong hua)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii, ru xiang)
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha, mo yao)
Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Szechuan lovage root (Ligusticum chuanxiong)
Red sage root (Salvia miltiorrhizae)
Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo)
Red peony (Paeonia veitchii)
Achyranthes (Achyranthes bidentata, niu xi)
Vaccaria seed (Vaccaria segetalis, wang bu liu xing)
Dang gui (Angelica sinensis)
White peony (Paeonia lactiflora, bai shao)
Many formulas move the Blood. However, there are four main blood-moving formulas, one for each Warmer and one for the collaterals and channels.
Decoction for Removing Blood Stasis in the Chest (Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang)
This formula is for pain in the head and/or chest due to Blood Stasis or poor circulation. The pain could be chronic, fixed and piercing. Other symptoms include irritability, insomnia, emotional upset, and increased body temperature, especially in the afternoon. The pulse is hesitant, or wiry and tight, and the tongue is dark red with purple spots.
Persica (tao ren) 9-12 g
Carthamus (hong hua) 6-9 g
Angelica sinensis (dang gui) 6-9 g
Ligusticum (chuan xiong) 3-6 g
Red peony (chi shao yao) 6-9 g
Cyathula (chuan niu xi) 6-9 g
Bupleurum (chai hu) 3-6 g
Platycodon (jie geng) 3-6 g
Bitter orange (zhi ke) 6-9 g
Licorice (gan cao) 3-6 g
Decoction to Remove Blood Stasis below the Diaphragm (Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang)
This formula is used for masses below the diaphragm, fixed abdominal pain, hypochondriac pain, irritability, indigestion, constipation, abdominal tumors, and menstrual issues.
Angelica sinensis (dang gui) 6-9 g
Ligusticum (chuan xiong) 6-9 g
Persica (tao ren) 6-9 g
Safflower (hong hua) 6-9 g
Lindera (wu yao) 6-9 g
Corydalis (yan hu suo) 3-9 g
Cyperus (xiang fu) 3-6 g
Red peony (chi shao yao) 6-9 g
Moutan peony (mu dan pi) 6-9 g
Bitter orange (zhi ke) 3-6 g
Licorice (gan cao) 1-3 g
Pteropus excrement (wu ling zhi) 6-9 g
Decoction for Removing blood Stasis in the Lateral Abdomen (Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang)
This formula treats abdominal pain with no lumps, or with lumps but no pain, abdominal distention, back pain during menses, irregular menses with purplish-black blood and clots, uterine bleeding with abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, and amenorrhea.
Angelica sinensis (dang gui) 6-9 g
Ligusticum (chuan xiong) 3-6 g
Red peony (chi shao yao) 6-9 g
Fennel (xiao hui xiang) 3-6 g
Corydalis (yan hu suo) 3-6 g
Myrrh (mo yao) 3-6 g
Cinnamon bark (rou gui) 3-6 g
Dry ginger (gan jiang) 3-6 g
Bulrush pollen (pu huang) 6-9 g
Pteropus excrement (wulingzhi) 6-9 g
Channels and Collaterals
Decoction to Relieve Muscle Ache (Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang)
This formula treats general body and limb aches and pains including the muscles of the neck, back, legs, shoulder or whole body due to Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis in the channels. It also treats rheumatoid arthritis and arthralgia.
After briefly covering the five stagnations in January (Parts 1 and 2) and Qi stagnation in February (Parts 1 and 2), it makes sense to cover Blood stasis next. Qi and Blood are intricately connected in many ways, which means that tonifying or moving one, tonifies or moves the other. So now that we’ve gotten your Qi moving, your Blood is probably flowing better, too. However, Blood stasis can appear by itself and eventually cause Qi to stagnate. And you definitely don’t want your blood to stagnate – it can be MOST uncomfortable!
When Blood doesn’t circulate freely, it stagnates. This can occur as sluggish circulation, localized coagulations or fixed masses. Blood stasis tends to be more severe than Qi stagnation partly because it is a substantial fluid in the body. When Qi stagnates, pain is like rush-hour traffic – it comes and goes and changes location and severity – but when Blood congests, pain is like a major traffic accident with trauma, injuries and stabbing sensations.
Signs of Blood Stasis
Generally, three or more signs need be present to identify Blood stasis, but any of the following indicate its presence. While severe pain that is fixed and stabbing is a major sign, it’s possible to have Blood stasis without any pain at all.
Severe pain that is stabbing or boring in nature and fixed in location
Purple lips, nails, or tongue
Masses that are fixed and don’t move
Bleeding with dark blood and dark clots; larger clots
Dark to dusky complexion and bluish/purplish skin discolorations (such as bruises; varicose veins; spider veins; dark vasculature; areas of trauma and spots on the skin or mucous membranes such as liver spots); rough scaly dry skin; dry hair
On palpation, any hard masses; may be painful to the touch
Pulse and Tongue:
Pulse: rough and “difficult” (like scraping bamboo with a knife), choppy (thready, slow, short and irregular), knotted (slower than 60 BPM with occasional irregular pauses), or accelerated (faster than 80 BPM with irregular pauses)
Tongue: purple, blue-purple, purple spots; sub-lingual veins (under the tongue) tend to be engorged and purple
Blood Stasis in the Upper Warmer
Purple or blue discolorations, stabbing pains in the head or chest, immobile lumps, masses, tumors, or clots
Blood Stasis in the Heart
Stabbing or pricking pain in the chest, stuffiness of the chest, purple tip or sides of tongue front, distended sub-lingual veins toward front of tongue
Blood Stasis in the Lungs
Stuffiness of the chest, immobile masses, purple tip or sides of tongue front, distended sub-lingual veins toward front of tongue
Blood Stasis in the Middle Warmer
Immobile lumps, masses, tumors, or clots in the middle abdomen
Blood Stasis in the Stomach
Vomiting of dark blood, dark blood in stools, epigastric pain, purple tongue especially in the center and distended sub-lingual veins in the center
Blood Stasis in the Lower Warmer
Severe menstrual pain, dark menstrual blood possibly with larger clots, immobile lumps, masses, tumors, or clots in the lower abdomen
Blood Stasis in the Liver
Purple nails, painful periods with dark menstrual blood possibly with dark, larger clots, PMS pain, purple tongue especially on the sides, and distended sub-lingual veins near the rear
Blood Stasis in the Intestines
Dark blood in the stools, severe abdominal pain, purple tongue at the rear and distended sub-lingual veins at the rear
Blood Stasis in the Uterus
Menstrual pain, pre-menstrual pain, dark menstrual blood with dark and larger clots, abdominal masses, purple tongue and distended sub-lingual veins at the root
Causes for Blood Stasis
Several factors can lead to Blood stasis:
Qi Stagnation:This is the most common cause. Qi moves Blood; if Qi stagnates, then Blood congeals.
Deficient Qi:A deficiency of Qi over time makes it too weak to move Blood.
Heat in the Blood:Heat in the Blood can cause it to coagulate and stagnate.
Deficient Blood:A deficiency of Blood over time causes a deficiency of Qi, which then can’t move Blood so it stagnates.
Internal Cold:Coldness slows the circulation of Blood, which then can congeal. In fact, many people who feel “cold” are actually experiencing poor blood circulation. This especially happens with the elderly or infirm.
Pathogenic Influences:If External Wind invades and pushes deeper into the body, it can cause Internal Cold. As well, External Wind-Cold or Wind-Damp or the congealing actions of warm pathogen diseases can cause Blood to congest.
Dampness and Phlegm: Dampness and/or Phlegm can slow or even obstruct circulation, leading to Blood stasis.
Trauma: Injuries, accidents and other traumas cause Blood stasis, either locally or internally.
Emotions:Any long-term suppressed or unexpressed emotion stagnates the Qi, which in turn can congeal the Blood. As well, restlessness, or irritability and the need to “break out” may be signs of Blood stasis. Some esoteric traditions teach that the personality and karma are carried in the blood. Perhaps this could account for the reason why people with heart transplants often have a personality change for the first two months!
Also, keep in mind that emotions cause chemicals to be released, which then dock on receptor sites of cells to create changes in the body. According to Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotions: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1999), these chemicals of emotion don’t just occur in the brain but exist everywhere in the body. These are produced directly at a cellular level when the neuropeptides bind with receptors, and your heart holds every single neuropeptide receptor. This means it’s very possible that emotions are carried through our blood stream, affecting its volume, flow and quality.
Diet: A diet rich in raw foods, salads and/or fruit, foods eaten directly out of the refrigerator or freezer (like milk, yogurt, ice cream, popsicles, or frozen yogurt), cold drinks (such as iced water or iced tea and juices) and cold-energied foods (such as soy milk, tofu, watermelon, bananas, crabmeat, shellfish) cause Coldness, which congests the blood. Hot, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol cause Heat in the Blood. If there’s also Qi stagnation avoid Qi-stagnating foods (listed here). If there is deficient Blood, then inadequate intake of food in general and protein in particular can lead to deficient Blood, which eventually causes Blood stasis.
Lifestyle Habits: External injuries, traumas, and accidents directly cause Blood stasis. Other causes include: insufficient dressing for the weather, such as including bare neck, back and midriff causes Cold to penetrate and lodge in the Interior; insufficient activity/movement causes Qi to stagnate, which in turn causes Blood stasis; and overuse of hot tubs and saunas thins the blood, possibly leading to deficient Blood and from there, Blood stasis, or disperses the Yang, causing Internal Coldness and then Blood stasis.
What is the Difference Between Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis?
More distension than pain
More pain than distension
Moving pain, changes location
Fixed, immobile pain
Distending pain that can come and go; feeling of fullness
Stabbing or boring pain that is immoblie
Appear and disappear
Doesn’t appear on surface of skin; sub-cutaneous lumps that come and go and change location
Purple-bluish discolorations; sub-cutaneous lumps that are fixed
May be unchanged
Normal color with sides possibly curled up
Purple with possible purple spots
Rough, choppy, knotted, or accelerated
Blood stasis can be involved in such conditions as joint or muscle pain, tumors, gynecological disorders, cancer, fibroids, arthritis, intractable pain, angina, abdominal masses, heart disease, coronary artery disease, migraines, Reynaud’s, intercostal neuralgia, pain due to external injuries, Peyronie’s disease, emotional instability, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, vertigo, tinnitus, constipation, incontinence of urine, hard palpable masses, lumps and tumors, eczema, urticaria, dry, rough and itchy skin, abscesses and other skin diseases or sores, severe pain in the muscles, numbness or paralysis of the limbs, joints, muscles and nerves, angina pectoris, gastritis, ulcers, hepatitis, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, polycystic ovaries, infertility and more.
Blood stasis is often considered a “silent killer” because it can be the hidden pathology behind other issues. Any long-term condition that can’t be resolved generally has blood stasis involved.
In Part II we will discuss treatments and therapies for Blood stasis. However, if you feel stagnant just by reading all of this, I suggest you immediately get up and MOVE, just as for Qi stagnation, as that’ll get your blood circulating, too!
Foods to Eat: Foods that decongest and aid the Liver include vegetables, bitter foods and dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, dandelion, mustard, beet and mustard greens. Lemon juice also helps decongest the liver. A good morning liver cleanse is a fresh squeezed lemon in water with 1 or 2 teaspoons of olive oil and a couple of “00” sized capsules of cayenne pepper. This is followed with fennel seed tea.
Foods to Avoid: Avoid fried, fatty and oily foods, nuts and nut butters, avocados, cheese and dairy, chips of all kinds, turkey and red meats, alcohol, spicy foods, caffeinated foods and drinks, coffee, black tea, cocoa, colas and chocolate, recreational drugs and stimulants.
Emotional Therapy: Turning the “vices” of the Liver into “virtues” helps smooth Liver Qi Stagnation. The Liver’s vices are anger and frustration; its virtues are benevolence, forgiveness, esteem, respect and kindness. Ever hear of that saying, “Do acts of kindness?” Such actions actually cultivate the positive aspects of the Liver and help Qi flow smoothly and regularly. There are many ways to do this; choose ones that express and release emotions in constructive ways and cause no harm to you or others. Above all, do not repress or stuff your emotions, as this is what helped create these physical symptoms in the first place. Of course my new book, Metaphor-phosis: Transform Your Stories from Pain to Power, is a perfect tool to help you do this!
Lifestyle Therapies: To rebalance the Liver, go to sleep by 11 PM at the latest, move regularly through walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, jogging, exercise, hiking (especially in the woods), Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga or another physical activity and regular exercise, and engage in creative projects as this releases pent-up Liver energy and moves Qi. For computer work (and other electronic tools) and desk jobs, be sure to move and/or stretch for five minutes every 30 – 60 minutes.
Other Therapies: Participate in regular life activities, sex and exercise as regularity of habits helps regulate Qi. Go to sleep by 11 pm at the latest since the Wood Element time of the Liver and Gallbladder does its major work from 11 pm – 3 am (if there’s also Deficient Kidney Yin, go to bed by 9 - 9:30 PM). Find work and jobs you enjoy and are fulfilling.Alternate work with rest and play as over-working can cause this pattern. Do cupping (especially over the back), dermal hammer where needed, breathing exercises, abdominal massage, massage therapies, singing and wear a haramaki around the waist to keep the kidneys warm, the “mother” of the Liver.
Herbal Therapy: Finally - herbal therapy for Qi stagnation! This encompasses so many herbs and formulas that we can’t cover them all here, but I’ll give you enough juicy ones to start exploring. First of all, herbs that move Qi are those that help it move smoothly, regularly and in the right direction. In Western herbalism this includes carminatives. Examples include:
Qi-regulating herbs tend to be aromatic, warm and acrid or bitter in energy, treating symptoms of pain that comes and goes, and/or changes location and severity; distention, stifling feelings in the chest, belching, nausea, vomiting, wheezing, acid regurgitation, loss of appetite, diarrhea or alternating diarrhea or constipation, pain in the flanks or under the ribs, depression, mood swings, and hernias.
Qi-moving herbs are rarely used alone; rather they are combined with others based upon the nature of the condition being treated. Typically, they are combined with Blood-moving herbs as Qi and Blood are intricately intertwined. For this reason, when one tonifies Qi, it’s important to tonify Blood and when one moves Qi, it’s also important to move Blood.
Kitchen medicine: For quick use around the home, I find citrus peel tea to be very effective to move Qi. While the Chinese use mandarin orange peels, in Italy I was surprised with lemon peel tea after one dinner. As well, rose buds make a wonderful jam, delighting the senses and spirit as well as moving Qi. Fennel seeds, normally found mixed with sugar and taken after dinner in Indian restaurants, are great as a tea, eaten raw or toasted and cooked with vegetables and meats.
Caution: Because Qi-moving herbs tend to be warming and drying, use with caution in those with Deficient Blood or Yin, or Excess Heat; because they are dispersing, use with caution if there’s Deficient Qi.
There are lots of formulas that move the Qi and many are available in Chinese patent teapill form, which are easy to find and take. Because bupleurum is one of the major Qi-moving herbs, there are literally dozens of formulas based on this herb alone. Perhaps one of the best known is Bupleurum and Dang Gui Formula (Xiao Yao San) and its variation, Bupleurum and Peony Combination (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San). These two formulas treat most symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation. The first is more warming while the second also clears Heat.
Bupleurum and Dang Gui Formula (Rambling Powder, Xiao Yao San,or in Planetary Formulas: Bupleurum Calmative):
Bupleurum (chai hu), 6-9g
Dang gui (dang gui), 6-9g
White peony (bai shao), 9-12g
White atractylodes (bai zhu), 6-9g
Poria (fu ling), 9-15g
Mint (bo he), 1-3g
Fresh ginger (shen jiang), 1-3g
Baked licorice (zhi gan cao), 3-6g
Bupleurum and Peony Formula (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San):
Add to the above formula:
Gardenia fruit (zhi zi), 1-3g
Moutan peony (mu dan pi, tree peony), 3-6g
Uses: Both formulas regulate the function of the Liver and Spleen, move Liver Qi stagnation and replenish Blood. They are used for anemia, costal pain, headache, mouth and throat dryness, dizziness, lassitude, loss of appetite, irregular menses, leukorrhea, uterine bleeding, PMS, mood swings, depression, breast distention, chronic hepatitis, and alternating chills and fevers as in shao yang stage diseases.
Other Bupleurum Formulas to Consider:
Minor Bupleurum (Xiao Chai Hu Tang)
Major Bupleurum Formla (Da Chai Hu Tang)
Bupleurum and Chih Shih Formula (Frigid Extremities Powderor Si Ni San)
Bupleurum and Cinnamon Combination (Chai Hu Gui Zhi Tang)
Bupleurum and Dragon Bone Combination (Chai Hu Jial Long Gu Mu Li Tang)
Bupleurum and Schizonepeta Formula (Shih Wei Pai Tu Tang)
Bupleurum Formula (Yi Gan San)
More Useful Qi-Moving Formulas:
Pinellia and Magnolia Combination (Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang)
Powder to Disperse Vital Energy in the Liver (Chai Hu Shu Gan San)
Pills of Tangerine Seed (Ju He Wan)
Happy Spring to you! May your Qi flow smoothly and your energy rise with the sap in trees!
Last month we discussed the five stagnations in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) along with two formulas to treat all five. In honor of Spring, which begins this year on Feb 10 (Chinese New Year), we will focus on Qi stagnation now. Spring is represented by the Wood Element and its organs, the Liver and Gall Bladder. Since the Liver rules the smooth flow of Qi, now is a perfect time to discuss Qi Stagnation along with how to prevent and treat it.
When Qi congests, flows improperly or moves in the wrong direction (called rebellious Qi), it stagnates. This is just like rush hour stop-and-go traffic, or cars piling up in a traffic jam. One of the most common disharmonies in the body, it affects not only the Liver, but the other Organs and the Seven Emotions as well.
When administering herbal therapy for Qi Stagnation, it is very important that tonics are not given as this could worsen the condition – like adding more cars to a bad traffic jam. In fact, it is for this reason that an important therapeutic herbal strategy is to first give moving herbs from the Regulate Qi and Move Blood categories along with Heat-clearing herbs before giving tonics, as we discussed in January’s blog on the Five Stagnations.
Signs of Qi Stagnation:
In terms of symptoms, Qi Stagnation has far-reaching effects on the body. Again, because the Liver is in charge of the smooth flow of Qi, this pattern is called “Liver Qi Stagnation.” Since there are so many ways this pattern can appear, it is divided into categories of related symptoms. As with all patterns, it is not necessary for all these symptoms to appear to indicate this disharmony; three or more designate there’s Qi stagnation (those in bold are the main symptoms). See if you can find yourself here (hopefully, you can’t!):
distension of hypochondrium and chest
pains that move from place to place, and change in severity or frequency
cysts, fibroids and abdominal masses that appear and disappear quickly
moodiness and mood swings
unhappiness; a gloomy feeling
a lump or plum-pit feeling in the throat
feeling of difficulty in swallowing
PMS tension and irritability
swollen breasts before periods
diarrhea or alternating diarrhea and constipation
churning feeling in the stomach
feeling of pulsation in epigastrium
5) In the meridians
lumps in the neck, breast, groin or flank
6) Pulse and Tonue
Pulse: wiry, difficult or choppy;I often find that with Qi stagnation, the pulse doesn’t move well, if at all, either just in the Liver position (the deep middle position on left hand), in another organ (such as the Stomach, the superficial middle position on the right hand – this is the Liver counteracting on the Stomach) or in the overall pulse.
Tongue: body color may be normal or slightly purple; sides may curl up
Qi Stagnation in the Upper Warmer:
Emotional and mental signs, depression, hysteria, headaches, dizziness, vertigo, chest pains that change location and/or severity; cysts, fibroids and masses that appear and disappear quickly
Qi Stagnation in the Middle Warmer:
Burping, gas, bloating, tight abdomen or tightness in stomach, full feeling in the abdomen, pains that move or come and go, change severity and location
Qi Stagnation in the Lower Warmer:
Stiffness, heaviness, tightness in the lower abdomen and extremities, pains that come and go, change severity and location, cysts, fibroids and masses that appear and disappear quickly
Qi Stagnation in Abdominal Diagnosis
When the abdomen is gently palpated, if there is any discomfort beneath the ribs and/or on the left side right above, beside or below the navel, these indicate Qi Stagnation.
When energy flows in the wrong direction, or opposite its normal functional flow, it is called “rebellious Qi.” This is also a type of Qi Stagnation. Examples include:
NORMAL QI DIRECTION
PATHOLOGICAL QI DIRECTION
SYMPTOMS & SIGNS
Belching, burping, hiccups, nausea, vomiting
Excessively upward or horizontally –
to the Stomach
to the Spleen
to the Intestines
Nausea, belching, vomiting (Stomach)
Dry stools (Intestines)
Mental restlessness, insomnia
Causes for Qi Stagnation:
There are many factors that can cause Qi to stagnate. Here are several:
Pathogenic Influences:The two External Pernicious Influences that affect Liver Qi are Wind and Dampness. Although Wind does not invade the Liver directly, it can aggravate an existing condition of Interior Wind in the Liver. When it does, it causes Liver Qi to stagnate, which can further result in Blood Stasis. It can also cause skin rashes and hives that appear and move quickly. As well, Blood Stasis can lead to Qi Stagnation.
Emotions:Any long-term suppressed or unexpressed emotion stagnates the Qi. This means it’s important to discover the underlying cause for these feelings and find constructive and beneficial outlets. Specific emotions that stagnate Qi are anger, frustration, resentment, irritability, mood swings and depression.
Diet:A diet rich in stimulants, fried, fatty and oily foods, dairy, chips of all kinds, recreational drugs, alcohol, coffee, black tea, chocolate, cocoa, colas, nuts and nut butters, avocados, turkey and red meats, and spicy foods (as in chili and curry) cause the Liver Qi to stagnate.
Lifestyle Habits: Inadequate activity, sex, or exercise, regularly going to sleep late at night (after 11 PM), working at jobs one doesn’t like, any type of stress, or overwork without sufficient rest cause Liver Qi stagnation.
In Part II we will discuss treatments and therapies for Qi stagnation. However, if you feel stagnant just by reading all of this, I suggest you immediately get up and MOVE! Movement is one of the great keys to circulating Qi. It can be exercise, but if you do what you love at the same time, it also smoothes emotions and nourishes you, preventing further stagnation.
In Part I of this blog, I discussed the Five Stagnations in general along with some non-herbal treatments. Here are two general herbal formulas that can be used for all types of stagnation.
Stagnation Relieving Pills (Yue Qu Wan)
This formula can be found as a patent medicine easily from Chinese herb stores or herbal suppliers. As a bonus, for each Chinese herb ingredient I’ve included a substitution easily found in your spice cabinet!
Indications: This formula moves all five stagnations, treating symptoms of feeling congestion in the chest and abdomen, possible hypochondriac pain, bloating, belching, acid regurgitation, nausea, vomiting, mild coughing, and indigestion with a lack of appetite. It may be considered for nervous stomach, gastrointestinal ulcers, pain in the chest, hepatitis, cholecystitis, or gallstones.
9-12g black atractylodes
9-12g medicated leaven
Massa fermentata medicinalis
9-12g gardenia fruit
Preparation: Grind into a powder. Slowly stir in enough water until the powder becomes workable enough so that you can roll the mixture into pills the size of an azuki bean. Or, take 6-9 g powered herbs with warm water. If using granulated extracts, take 3-6 g three times daily depending on body weight.
1. For Cold with stagnant Qi, add galangal (gao liang jiang or Alpinia galanga).
2. For dysmenorrhea or mental depression, add curcuma root (yu jin or Curcuma longa)
3. For Heat and stagnation in the Liver with hypochondriac pain, yellow tongue coat, and a wiry, rapid pulse, add corydalis (yan hu suo or rhizome Corydalis yan hu suo)
Universal Stagnation-Dispersing Formula
This second formula was the first herbal treatment given to all his patents by a master Chinese herbalist. Michael later learned from Jeffrey Yuen (a famous Taoist acupuncturist and herbalist) that it was created and used by his Chinese herb teacher. This formula can be taken twice daily for a week prior to the use of any other formula and regardless of the presenting symptoms. Jeffrey said that it looks like a modified Five Accumulations Formula with Dang Gui and Magnolia Combination.
Chinese herb, properties and actions
6 g cinnamon twig
(sweet, spicy, warm; moves Yang Qi, removes Cold stagnation)
4 g field mint
(spicy, cool; relieves Liver Qi stagnation)
6-9 g siler
(pungent, sweet, warm; removes Cold and Damp stagnation)
6-9 g white peony
(bitter, sour, cool; nourishes Blood, which can be depleted and dried from the use of too many strongly moving herbs; also moves Blood stasis)
bai shao yao
6-9 g ligusticum
(pungent, warm; Moves Blood and Qi stagnation)
6-9 g fu ling
(sweet to bland, neutral; dispels Damp stagnation)
6-9 g Angelica dahurica
(pungent, warm; clears Heat and calms Wind)
6-9 g prepared pinellia
(pungent, warm; dispels Damp and removes Phlegm)
3-6 g bitter orange (no seeds)
(sour, bitter, slightly cold; moves Qi and clears Heat)
6-9 g platycodon
(pungent, bitter, neutral; clears Phlegm, which is a type of Damp stagnation)
Usually this time of year I write about resting more, doing less and in general, relaxing to replenish your vital kidney energy. Yet, it’s also important to balance rest with movement or exercise. Lying around too much or doing too little can be just as harmful as overdoing; being sedentary causes congestion.
Congestion, or stagnation as it’s called in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is one of the major causes of all illness, particularly chronic and degenerative issues. Quite often when someone doesn’t feel good, feels ‘off’ in some way, has low energy, gets sick easily, or can’t heal an illness no matter what they try, the underlying cause is stagnation.
Have you ever wondered what was causing someone’s illness when they didn’t appear to be sick or the normal treatment didn’t work? I often see people with low energy who obviously have an Excess condition and it’s not appropriate to tonify (build or nourish them with herbs and foods). These conditions are caused by stagnation.
Stagnation is much like bad traffic during rush hour, heavy rain or a traffic jam when cars slow down, pile up, or stop altogether. In TCM, stagnation arises when there is “too much” of something in any given area for whatever reason – poor circulation, lack of movement, over-eating, bad diet and all types of stress. In and of itself, stagnation is considered an Excess condition, yet there can easily be stagnation co-existent with any type of Deficiency.
The Five Stagnations
There are five different types of stagnation: Qi, Blood, Fluid, Cold and Food stagnation. Any of these can stop moving and congest. Heat may appear to stagnate, yet it is considered and treated as one of the five types of Excess Heat. In addition to the abovementioned causes of poor diet, lack of exercise, emotional, and mental or physical stress, any one of the five stagnations can eventually cause another type to happen.
According to TCM theory, any substance that is in excess or not moving is potentially toxic and injurious. That means that to treat the Five Stagnations is ultimately about clearing toxicity. Because stagnation is so pervasive in our culture, many TCM practitioners first clear toxicity and only then give tonics if necessary.
In future blogs I will discuss how to identify and treat each type of stagnation. In two weeks I’ll give you two formulas that treat all five types together. In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do now to release and prevent stagnation this winter.
General Treatment for Stagnation
1) MOVE! The number one treatment for all stagnation is to move. This can be something “formal” such as exercise, tai chi, qi gong, or yoga, yet dancing, swimming, bicycling, hiking, and gardening are just as effective. In fact, choose a form of movement that nourishes you emotionally and mentally and you’ll be even more effective in releasing stagnation.
2) DIET AWARENESS: Along with lack of movement, improper diet is the next cause of stagnation. Definitely avoid over-eating (you know that post-holiday meal feeling of stuffiness and discomfort? That’s food stagnation.) As well, shun cold foods and drinks, raw foods, excessive meat intake and foods that are too spicy.
3) WRITE: Writing in a journal is one of the best ways to express and release emotional issues. Stuck emotions is one of the major causes of stagnation, yet because they subconsciously influence our thoughts, health and behaviors, they are not accessed by just thinking about them, emoting or dwelling on them over and over. Rather, we need to access the subconscious in order to release them. Writing and speaking out loud do this, which is why journal writing is so emotionally productive. When you access the subconscious through writing, linked connections arise such as past memories, cause and effect relationships, realizations or understandings. This is what allows them to truly release.
4) LIFESTYLE HABITS: Other useful techniques include massage – overall body massage or abdominal or foot massage; moxibustion or other heat applications through salt packs, heated stones, or hot buckwheat “pillows” (those wonderful cloth rectangular bags you can find in stores and heat in the microwave); and skin stimulation through scraping (gua sha), dermal hammer, electric “thumpers,” or massagers, and even small buffers with cotton covers.
I don’t know what it is about the holidays and me, but when this time of year comes around I think about spices. It’s probably because of the season – winter, colder weather, Kidney time – and spicing up meals enhances all three of these. So once again I give you something about spices, although this time with a different twist -- I’ve found a perfect book not only for your kitchen, but as a lovely gift option as well.
I was so inspired by this book that I completely restocked our spice cabinet, throwing out a lot of old stuff, cleaning up the mess and bringing in just those spices we wanted and would use. Now when I open the spice cabinet I can easily grab the ones I want. It has become a delight to use them rather than a burden to find them. As well, this book inspired me to create my own spice blends (another great gift idea, by the way).
How often do we think of spices as medicine? How many people know that our “lowly” kitchen spices are some of our most potent healing herbs? According to Aggarwai, “(W)orldwide scientific research has linked spices to the prevention and treatment of more than 150 health problems, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.”
Many people know that ginger aids digestion and treats motion sickness, and turmeric is good for pain and arthritis. But how many know that caraway is a folk remedy to prevent and control blood sugar problems and that its daily intake for two weeks normalized blood sugar in rats? How many cooks know that a compound in star anise is used as the “starter ingredient” for Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for flu? How many realize that a vanillin-derived drug significantly reduced the percentage of sickle cells in rats, becoming a potential new agent for those with sickle cell anemia?
Do you cook with fennel, fenugreek, asafetida, juniper berry, ajowan or tamarind? All of these highly flavorful herbs also have tremendous health benefits. Many of these spices aid digestion, improving appetite and eliminating gas and bloating. Of course just a dash of spice won’t heal your arthritis, but continued use of these spices does have beneficial effects on health and prevents disease.
So go ahead – spice up your life this holiday and help others to do so, too! Here’s a spice recipe I love that you may enjoy, too. I made this so often recently that I decided to combine all the spices in one large batch for easy use in the future. However, if you choose to do so, keep the seeds separate from the powders; they brown at different rates.
1-2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil or sesame oil
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
1 onion thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1) Heat ghee or oil in a large pan and add fennel and fenugreek seeds. After heating for a few seconds, add the remaining spices. Cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, until browned.
2) Mix in onion and garlic and sauté on medium heat until onion is near translucent.
3) Place yogurt and salt (and red pepper if desired) in blender. Cool spice/onion/garlic mix and then blend with yogurt/salt until smooth. Add yogurt to thin as needed.
4) Stir into or pour over warm, cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb), and vegetables (I like to use one carrot, halved and sliced, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or one red bell pepper cut into pieces). Garnish with parsley.